St. Padre Pio

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St. Padre Pio, also known as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Italian: Pio da Pietrelcina; 25 May 1887 – 23 September 1968), was an Italian friar, priest, stigmatist and mystic,[1] now venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church. Born Francesco Forgione, he was given the name of Pius (Italian: Pio) when he joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.

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Padre Pio became famous for exhibiting stigmata for most of his life, thereby generating much interest and controversy. He was both beatified (1999) and canonized (2002) by Pope John Paul II.[2]

The Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina is located in San Giovanni Rotondo, Province of Foggia, Italy.

Padre Pio was said to have had the gift of reading souls, the ability to bilocate, among other supernatural phenomena. He was said to communicate with angels and worked favors and healings before they were requested of him.[72] The reports of supernatural phenomena surrounding Padre Pio attracted fame and legend. The Vatican was initially skeptical.
Stigmata

Based on Pio’s correspondence, even early in his priesthood he experienced less obvious indications of the visible stigmata: bodily marks, pain, and bleeding in locations supposedly corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ.[73] In a 1911 letter, he wrote to his spiritual advisor Padre Benedetto from San Marco in Lamis, describing something he had been apparently experiencing for a year:

Then last night something happened which I can neither explain nor understand. In the middle of the palms of my hands a red mark appeared, about the size of a penny, accompanied by acute pain in the middle of the red marks. The pain was more pronounced in the middle of the left hand, so much so that I can still feel it. Also under my feet I can feel some pain.[73]

Already in a letter dated March 21, 1912, to his spiritual companion and confessor, Father Agostino, Father Pio wrote of his devotion to the mystical body of Christ and the intuition that he, Pio, one day himself would bear the stigmata of Christ. Luzzatto points out that in this letter Father Pio uses unrecognized passages from a book by the stigmatized mystic Gemma Galgani. Later Pio denied knowing or owning the cited book.[74]

His close friend Padre Agostino wrote in 1915, asking specific questions, such as when he first experienced visions, whether he had been granted the stigmata, and whether he felt the pains of the Passion of Christ, namely the crowning of thorns and the scourging. Pio replied that he had been favoured with visions since his novitiate period (1903 to 1904). Although he had been granted the stigmata, he had been so terrified by the phenomenon he begged the Lord to withdraw them. He wrote that he did not wish the pain to be removed, only the visible wounds, since he considered them to be an indescribable and almost unbearable humiliation.[73]

On 20 September 1918, while hearing confessions, Pio claimed to have had a reappearance of the physical occurrence of the stigmata. The phenomenon was reported to have continued for fifty years, until the end of his life. The blood flowing from the stigmata purportedly smelled of perfume or flowers.[75] He reported to Agostino that the pain remained and was more acute on specific days and under certain circumstances. He also said that he was suffering the pain of the crown of thorns and the scourging. He did not define the frequency of these occurrences but said that he had been suffering from them at least once weekly for some years.[73] Though Pio said he would have preferred to suffer in secret, by early 1919, news had begun to spread. Pio often wore red mittens or black coverings on his hands and feet as he was embarrassed by the marks.[34] However, no visible scarring was present at the time of Pio’s death.[76]
Padre Pio showing the stigmata (detail from a photo from August 19, 1919) [77]

In a letter to Padre Benedetto, his superior and spiritual advisor from San Marco in Lamis, dated 22 October 1918, Pio described his experience of receiving the stigmata:

On the morning of the 20th of last month, in the choir, after I had celebrated Mass I yielded to a drowsiness similar to a sweet sleep. […] I saw before me a mysterious person similar to the one I had seen on the evening of 5 August. The only difference was that his hands and feet and side were dripping blood. This sight terrified me and what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I should have died if the Lord had not intervened and strengthened my heart which was about to burst out of my chest. The vision disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were dripping blood. Imagine the agony I experienced and continue to experience almost every day. The heart wound bleeds continually, especially from Thursday evening until Saturday. Dear Father, I am dying of pain because of the wounds and the resulting embarrassment I feel deep in my soul. I am afraid I shall bleed to death if the Lord does not hear my heartfelt supplication to relieve me of this condition. Will Jesus, who is so good, grant me this grace? Will he at least free me from the embarrassment caused by these outward signs? I will raise my voice and will not stop imploring him until in his mercy he takes away, not the wound or the pain, which is impossible since I wish to be inebriated with pain, but these outward signs which cause me such embarrassment and unbearable humiliation[78]….the pain was so intense that I began to feel as if I were dying on the cross.[79]

Once made public, the wounds were studied by a number of physicians, some hired by the Vatican as part of an independent investigation. Some claimed that the wounds were unexplainable and never seem to have become infected.[34][80] Despite seeming to heal they would then reappear periodically.[81] Alberto Caserta took X-rays of Pio’s hands in 1954 and found no abnormality in the bone structure.[82] Some critics accused Pio of faking the stigmata, for example by using carbolic acid to make the wounds. Maria De Vito (the cousin of a local pharmacist at Foggia) testified that the young Pio bought a little bottle of carbolic acid and four grams of veratrine in 1919.[83]

Monsignor Rossi considers the accusation concerning carbolic acid and veratridine (veratrine) and he concludes: “[Padre Pio] requested carbolic acid to disinfect syringes needed for shots, and veratridine for . . . a prank to be played during recreation!! Padre Pio had experienced the effects of this powder mixed, in an imperceptible dose, in the tobacco offered to him by a Brother. Without knowing anything about poisons, without even considering what veratridine was (and that is why he asked for four grams), he requested it to repeat the joke and laugh at the expense of some Brothers! That’s all. Instead of malice, what is revealed here is Padre Pio’s simplicity, and his playful spirit.”[84][85]

A number of Catholic clerics have dismissed charges that carbolic acid was used to fake the stigmata: “The boys had needed injections to fight the Spanish Flu which was raging at that time. Due to a shortage of doctors, Padres Paolino and Pio administered the shots, using carbolic acid as a sterilizing agent.”Rega (2005), p. 55[86]
Healing

In the 1999 book, Padre Pio: The Wonder Worker, a segment by Irish priest Malachy Gerard Carroll describes the story of Gemma de Giorgi, a Sicilian girl whose blindness was believed to have been cured during a visit to Padre Pio.[87] Gemma, who was brought to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1947 by her grandmother, was born without pupils. During her trip to see Padre Pio, the little girl began to see objects, including a steamboat and the sea.[87][88] Gemma’s grandmother did not believe the child had been healed. After Gemma forgot to ask Padre Pio for grace during her confession, her grandmother implored the priest to ask God to restore her sight.[87] Padre Pio told her, “The child must not weep and neither must you for the child sees and you know she sees.”[87]
Apparitions

During his period of spiritual suffering, his followers believe that Padre Pio was attacked by the devil, both physically and spiritually.[16] His followers also believe that the devil used diabolical tricks in order to increase Padre Pio’s torments. These included apparitions as an “angel of light” and the alteration or destruction of letters to and from his spiritual directors. Padre Augustine confirmed this when he said:
Padre Pio helped by other friars

Now, twenty-two days have passed since Jesus allowed the devils to vent their anger on me. My Father, my whole body is bruised from the beatings that I have received to the present time by our enemies. Several times, they have even torn off my shirt so that they could strike my exposed flesh.[89]

Padre Pio reported engaging in physical combat with Satan and his minions, similar to incidents described concerning St. John Vianney, from which he was said to have sustained extensive bruising.

On the day of Padre Pio’s death, mystic and Servant of God Maria Esperanza de Bianchini from Venezuela reported that he appeared to her in a vision and said, “I have come to say good-bye. My time has come. It is your turn.”[90][91][92] Her husband saw his wife’s face transfigured into that of Padre Pio.[91] On the following day, they learned that Padre Pio had died.[90][92] Witnesses say they later saw Esperanza levitating during Mass and engaging in bilocation.[92] Padre Domenico da Cese, a fellow Capuchin stigmatist, reported that on 22 September 1968, he saw Padre Pio kneeling in prayer before the Holy Face of Manoppello, although it was known that Padre Pio had not left his room.

World War I continued and in July 1918, Pope Benedict XV, who had termed the World War “the suicide of Europe,” appealed to all Christians urging them to pray for an end to the World War. On 27 July of the same year, Padre Pio offered himself as a victim for the end of the war. Days passed and between 5 and 7 August, Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ appeared and pierced his side.[4][13]

As a result, Padre Pio claimed to have received a physical wound in his side. This occurrence is considered as a transverberation or “piercing of the heart”, indicating the union of love with God within Christian mysticism.
Many books about Padre Pio included a third-class relic (cloth) on a prayer card. This relic was encased when he was considered “Venerable,” but has since been canonized.
Sculpture of Padre Pio with Jesus on the cross in Prato, Italy

The occasion of transverberation coincided with a seven-week-long period of spiritual unrest for Padre Pio. One of his Capuchin brothers said this of his state during that period:

During this time his entire appearance looked altered as if he had died. He was constantly weeping and sighing, saying that God had forsaken him.[4]

In a letter from Padre Pio to Padre Benedetto, dated 21 August 1918, Padre Pio writes of his experiences during the transverberation:

While I was hearing the boys’ confessions on the evening of the 5th [August] I was suddenly terrorized by the sight of a celestial person who presented himself to my mind’s eye. He had in his hand a sort of weapon like a very long sharp-pointed steel blade which seemed to emit fire. At the very instant that I saw all this, I saw that person hurl the weapon into my soul with all his might. I cried out with difficulty and felt I was dying. I asked the boy to leave because I felt ill and no longer had the strength to continue. This agony lasted uninterruptedly until the morning of the 7th. I cannot tell you how much I suffered during this period of anguish. Even my entrails were torn and ruptured by the weapon, and nothing was spared. From that day on I have been mortally wounded. I feel in the depths of my soul a wound that is always open and which causes me continual agony.[78]

On 20 September 1918, accounts state that the pains of the transverberation had ceased and Pio was in “profound peace.”[4] On that day, as he was engaged in prayer in the choir loft in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, he received another celestial vision which led to religious ecstasy. When the ecstasy ended, Padre Pio claimed to have received the visible stigmata. This time, it allegedly stayed visible for the next fifty years of his life, only disappearing in the last few weeks of his life, leaving no trace on his skin.[13]
Prophecy

In 1947, Father Karol Józef Wojtyła (later Pope John Paul II) visited Padre Pio, who heard his confession. Austrian Cardinal Alfons Stickler reported that Wojtyła confided to him that during this meeting, Padre Pio told him he would one day ascend to “the highest post in the church though further confirmation is needed.”[94] Stickler said that Wojtyła believed that the prophecy was fulfilled when he became a cardinal.[95] John Paul’s secretary, Stanisław Dziwisz, denies the prediction,[96] while George Weigel’s biography Witness to Hope, which contains an account of the same visit, does not mention it.

According to tradition,[97] Bishop Wojtyła wrote to Padre Pio in 1962 to ask him to pray for Wanda Poltawska, a friend in Poland who was suffering from cancer. Later, Poltawska’s cancer was apparently found to be in spontaneous remission. Medical professionals were seemingly unable to offer an explanation for the phenomenon.[98]
Rehabilitation

By 1933, the tide began to turn. Pope Pius XI ordered a reversal of the ban on Padre Pio’s public celebration of Mass, arguing, “I have not been badly disposed toward Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed.”[13] In 1934, the friar was again allowed to hear confessions. He was also given honorary permission to preach despite never having taken the exam for the preaching license. Pope Pius XII, who assumed the papacy in 1939, even encouraged devotees to visit Padre Pio.

Finally, in the mid-1960s Pope Paul VI (pope from 1963 to 1978) dismissed all accusations against Padre Pio.[34][99][100]
Death
A sculpture of Pio of Pietrelcina in the Franciscan San Antonio church in Pamplona, Spain

Pio died in 1968 at the age of 81. His health deteriorated in the 1960s but he continued his spiritual works. On 21 September 1968, the day after the 50th anniversary of his receiving the stigmata, Padre Pio felt great fatigue.[101] The next day, on September 22, 1968, he was supposed to offer a Solemn Mass, but feeling weak, he asked his superior if he might say a Low Mass instead, as he had done daily for years. Due to a large number of pilgrims present for the Mass, Padre Pio’s superior decided the Solemn Mass must proceed. Padre Pio carried out his duties but appeared extremely weak and fragile. His voice was weak and, after the Mass had concluded, he nearly collapsed while walking down the altar steps. He needed help from his Capuchin brothers. This was his last celebration of the Mass.

Early in the morning of 23 September 1968, Pio made his last confession and renewed his Franciscan vows.[13] As was customary, he had his rosary in his hands, though he did not have the strength to say the Hail Marys aloud. Till the end, he repeated the words “Gesù, Maria” (Jesus, Mary). At around 2:30 a.m., he said, “I see two mothers” (taken to mean his mother and Mary).[101] At 2:30 a.m. he died in his cell in San Giovanni Rotondo. With his last breath he whispered, “Maria!”[3]

His body was buried on 26 September in a crypt in the Church of Our Lady of Grace. His Requiem Mass was attended by over 100,000 people. He had often said, “After my death, I will do more. My real mission will begin after my death.”[101] The accounts of those who stayed with Padre Pio till the end state that the stigmata had completely disappeared without a scar. Only a red mark “as if drawn by a red pencil” remained on his side but it disappeared.[101]
Posthumous veneration
Padre Pio with Padre Clemente Tomay, his friend and confessor

In 1971, three years after his death, Pope Paul VI said to the superiors of the Capuchin Order about Pio:

Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Perhaps because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? Because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk and was–it is not easy to say it–one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering.[102]

In 1982, the Holy See authorized the archbishop of Manfredonia to open an investigation to determine whether Pio should be canonized. The investigation continued for seven years. In 1990 Pio was declared a Servant of God, the first step in the process of canonization. The investigation, however, did not lead to any public factual clearance by the Church on his previous ‘excommunication’ or on the allegations that his stigmata were not of a supernatural kind. Moreover, Pio’s stigmata were remarkably left out of the obligatory investigations for the canonization process, in order to avoid obstacles prohibiting a successful closure.

Beginning in 1990, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints debated how Padre Pio had lived his life, and in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared him venerable. A discussion of the effects of his life on others followed. Cases were studied such as a reported cure of an Italian woman, Consiglia de Martino, associated with Padre Pio’s intercession. In 1999, on the advice of the Congregation, John Paul II declared Padre Pio blessed. A media offensive by the Capuchins was able to realise a broad acceptation of the contested saint in society.[103]

After further consideration of Padre Pio’s virtues and ability to do good even after his death, including discussion of another healing attributed to his intercession, John Paul II declared Padre Pio a saint on 16 June 2002.[95] An estimated 300,000 people attended the canonization ceremony in Rome.[95]
The Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo

On 1 July 2004, John Paul II dedicated the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (sometimes referred as Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church), built in the village of San Giovanni Rotondo to the memory of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.[104]

On 3 March 2008, the body of Pio was exhumed from his crypt, forty years after his death, so that his remains could be prepared for display. A church statement described the body as being in “fair condition”. Archbishop Domenico Umberto D’Ambrosio, Papal legate to the shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo, stated “the top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved”.[105] Archbishop D’Ambrosio also confirmed in a communiqué that “the stigmata are not visible.”[106] He said that Pio’s hands “looked like they had just undergone a manicure”. It was hoped that morticians would be able to restore the face so that it will be recognizable. However, because of its deterioration, his face was covered with a lifelike silicone mask.[107]

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, celebrated Mass for 15,000 devotees on April 24 at the Shrine of Holy Mary of Grace, San Giovanni Rotondo, before the body went on display in a crystal, marble, and silver sepulcher in the crypt of the monastery.[108] Padre Pio is wearing his brown Capuchin habit with a white silk stole embroidered with crystals and gold thread. His hands hold a large wooden cross. 800,000 pilgrims worldwide, mostly from Italy, made reservations to view the body up to December 2008, but only 7,200 people a day were able to file past the crystal coffin.[109][110][111] Officials extended the display through September, 2009.[112]

Pio’s remains were placed in the church of Saint Pio, which is beside San Giovanni Rotondo. In April 2010 they were moved to a special golden “Cripta”.[113]

A statue of Pio in Messina, Sicily attracted attention in 2002 when it supposedly wept tears of blood.[114]

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina was named the patron saint of civil defence volunteers, after a group of 160 petitioned the Italian Bishops’ conference for this designation. The bishops forwarded the request to the Vatican, which gave its approval to the designation.[115] He is also “less officially” known as the patron saint of stress relief and the “January blues,” after the Catholic Enquiry Office in London proclaimed him as such. They designated the most depressing day of the year, identified as January 22, as Don’t Worry Be Happy Day, in honor of Padre Pio’s famous advice: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”[116]

Padre Pio has become one of the world’s most popular saints.[117] There are more than 3,000 “Padre Pio Prayer Groups” worldwide, with three million members. The first St Padre Pio parish http://www.stpp.church/home.html in the world was established 16 June 2002 in Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada. There are parishes in Vineland and Lavallette, New Jersey, and Sydney, Australia, and shrines in Buena, New Jersey, and Santo Tomas, Batangas, Philippines, dedicated to Padre Pio. A 2006 survey by the magazine Famiglia Cristiana found that more Italian Catholics pray to Padre Pio for intercession than to any other figure.[118]

It[clarification needed] was announced in 2009 that a renewable energy statue of Padre Pio was to be built on a hill near the town of San Giovanni Rotondo in the south-eastern province of Apulia, Italy, the town where he is commemorated. The project would cost several million pounds, with the money to be raised from the saint’s devotees around the world. The statue would be coated in a special photovoltaic paint, enabling it to trap the sun’s heat and produce solar energy, making it an “ecological” religious icon.[119]
The altar containing the body of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo
The new church-shrine of Padre Pio

The remains of Saint Pio were brought to the Vatican for veneration during the 2015–2016 Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Saint Pio and Saint Leopold Mandic were designated as saint-confessors to inspire people to become reconciled to the Church and to God, by the confession of their sins.

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